A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
BEN SHELTON DELIVERS FOR DAD: GATORS WIN NCAA TENNIS TITLE
Could there possibly be a better ending to the first NCAA men’s tennis championship in University of Florida history? Freshman Ben Shelton, playing No. 5 singles, lost the first set 3-6 to Baylor’s Charlie Broom, but rallied to take the next two, 6-1, 6-2, scoring the championship clinching point that not only made history for the Gators but made dad Bryan Shelton the happiest tennis coach on the planet.
Under Shelton, who became Florida’s head coach in 2013, the Gators have steadily grown into a national power. In the three of the four previous non-Covid seasons, the Gators made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament twice and the Final Four in 2019. This year, UF won its second SEC championship in a season that seemed to gain momentum with every match. On their way to the NCAA title, the top-seeded Gators beat No. 16 Illinois (4-0), No. 8 Texas A&M (4-1), No. 4 Texas (4-0) and No. 2 Baylor (4-1).
The Gators dropped the doubles point Saturday night at Lake Nona, but when Andy Andrade, Sam Riffice and Josh Goodger won their singles matches, all eyes turned to the Ben Shelton-Broom match. Broom looked good for one set, but Shelton dominated the second and third. When he scored the final point to win his match, he leapt over the net and into the arms of volunteer assistant coach Scott Perelman, kicking off an orange and blue celebration that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Sunday, Riffice, Andrade and Duarte Vale all won their matches to advance to the round of 32 as the individual championships got under way. Riffice and Vale will also compete in doubles championships starting today.
HIGHTOWER NO-HITS USF: THIS IS HOW YOU FINISH OFF AN NCAA REGIONAL Elizabeth Hightower (17-5, 1.51 ERA) didn’t get to finish off her no-hit bid Friday night. She held South Florida hitless for 6-1/3 innings when she was lifted with one out in the seventh for Katie Chronister. Hightower was unhittable once again on Sunday but this time she went the distance, striking out 10 while walking only three as the Gators (45-9) won the Gainesville Regional with an 8-0 win over South Florida.
It was a weekend of complete domination by the Gators, who allowed only three hits while outscoring three opponents, 19-0, as they advanced to another NCAA Super Regional. Florida will host Georgia (32-21), which upset 13th-seeded Duke to win the Athens Regional, next weekend.
In taking the regional, the Gators followed Tim Walton’s very simple formula for winning: Good pitching, good defense and timely hitting. The Gators allowed only 11 baserunners in three games – three singles, seven walks, one error. The error (top of the seventh Friday night) didn’t come back to haunt as UF pulled off a spectacular double play a couple of batters later when center fielder Cheyenne Lindsey threw out a runner at the plate and, after making the tag, catcher Julia Cottrill threw from her knees to nail the runner at third to erase the threat. In the bottom of the inning, Lindsey singled and Hannah Adams doubled off the center field wall for the game’s only run.
Saturday, Natalie Lugo (17-2, 1.60 ERA) pitched a 2-hitter, striking out 11 as the Gators blanked South Alabama 8-0. Charla Echols hit a home run and Kendyl Lindaman hit a 2-run double.
The closest USF came to a hit Sunday off Hightower was in the seventh when Adams went three feet behind the bag on the shortstop side of second base to make the stop and threw from her knees to first to record the out. Julia Cottrill provided the early offense with a run-scoring double and a home run. In the top of the seventh, Sarah Longley hit a grand slam, the first home run of her Florida career, and Lindsey followed with a solo shot over the center field fence.
This isn’t the most talented team Walton has had at Florida but there is never a doubt that he gets everything they have in the tank. They don’t have a dominant pitcher but they don’t walk people, don’t beat themselves with errors and you get the feeling they have the other team right where they want them when they’re trailing by one or two runs in the final two innings. Never say never, not with this team.
GATORS ARE A SIXTH SEED IN HOOVER
The next stop on this rather bizarre baseball season is Hoover, Alabama where the Gators (35-19, 17-13 SEC East) seeded sixth seed for the SEC Tournament. The Gators will open the tournament at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday against 11th-seeded Kentucky (29-22, 12-18 SEC East). If they win their first round game, they will face 3rd-seeded Mississippi State (40-13, 20-10 SEC) Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.
By losing all three games to Arkansas over the weekend, the Gators may have lost their shot at a top eight national seed when the NCAA announces its tournament selections next Sunday. Whereas the Gators are almost certain to host a regional, they probably have to win at least twice in Hoover to earn a top eight national seed. Only the top eight teams will host super regionals.
The Gators have enough pitching to win a couple of games in Hoover, but once you get past Tommy Mace and Hunter Barco, it will be tough sledding. Even if the Gators had earned a top four seed for Hoover, it would have taken five wins to take the tournament title. As the sixth seed, UF will need to win six times to take the tournament and that is the longest of shots.
FLORIDA DEFENSE GETS A HUGE COMMITMENT
Dan Mullen may have found the answer to the STAR position over the weekend when Jadarrius Perkins (6-2, 190, Hattiesburg, MS) announced he’s coming to Florida. Perkins was the No. 5 junior college prospect and No. 3 corner in the nation at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he played in 14 games in two years. He signed with Missouri back in February but entered the NCAA transfer portal on April 29.
Perkins, who has been timed at 4.42 in the 40, has both the size and speed to handle the STAR, which is a hybrid corner/safety/linebacker who has to be strong enough to play the run and physical enough to handle tight ends in the slot.
He is the fifth transfer Mullen has landed for the 2021 season.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Alabama (48-7) won the Tuscaloosa Regional by outscoring three opponents 20-0. The Crimson Tide, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Softball Tournament, will play host to 14th-seeded Kentucky in the super regional … Alabama (29-22, 12-17 SEC West) will open the SEC Baseball Tournament with No. 7 seed South Carolina.
Arkansas: With their sweep of Florida, the Razorbacks (42-10, 22-8 SEC West) captured the SEC regular season championship and the No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament. Arkansas will face the winner of the Georgia-LSU game Wednesday evening … Arkansas left fielder Braylon Webb was arrested for public intoxication Saturday night after the Hogs finished off their sweep of Florida … Arkansas (43-9) went 3-0 over the weekend to win the Fayetteville Regional. The No. 6 seed Razorbacks will host No. 11 Arizona in a super regional next weekend.
Auburn: Corner Marco Domio is the third Auburn player to transfer to UCF. Domio was a 4-star juco recruit out of Blinn College in 2020 … Auburn (27-24) was two-and-through in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional ... The Tigers (26-27, 10-20 SEC West) took two of three from Missouri to take the last spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament where they will play Ole Miss on Tuesday.
Georgia: Georgia (32-21) rallied on Sunday to take out 13th-seeded Duke, 10-9, to advance to the Gainesville Super Regional … Georgia (30-23, 13-17 SEC East), seeded 8th for the SEC Baseball Tournament, will face 9th-seeded LSU in a first round game Tuesday in Hoover.
Kentucky: Kentucky (43-14) advanced to the Tuscaloosa Super Regional the hard way by shutting out Notre Dame twice on Sunday to come through the loser’s bracket to win the Lexington Regional. The 14th-seeded Wildcats will face No. 3 seed Alabama in the super regional ... Kentucky (29-22, 12-18 SEC East) is the No. 11 seed in the SEC Baseball Tournament.
LSU: Former LSU QB TJ Finley will make a decision at 11 a.m. today between Alabama, Auburn, Houston and Penn State … The Tigers (35-20) needed two games Sunday to take out Louisiana to win the Baton Rouge Regional. They face Florida State in the super regional … LSU is the No. 9 seed in the SEC Baseball Tournament with a Thursday date with 8th-seeded Georgia.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs scored another big transfer when Michigan State point guard Rocket Watts (6-2, 190, SO) announced he is transferring to StarkVegas. The former 4-star recruit averaged 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game ... The Bulldogs (40-13, 20-10 SEC West) are the No. 3 seed in the SEC Baseball Tournament where they face the winner of the Florida-Kentucky game in the second round Wednesday … Mississippi State (35-25) went 2-2 at the NCAA softball Stillwater Regional.
Missouri: The Tigers (41-15) won the Columbia Regional by outscoring three opponents 17-0. Missouri, seeded 8th, will host James Madison, the surprise winner in Knoxville in the super regional.
Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin is hiring Gardner-Webb offensive line coach Jake Thornton, who served as a grad assistant at Alabama in 2017 … The Rebels (38-17, 18-12 SEC West) are the No. 5 seed in the SEC Baseball Tournament. They face 12th-seed Auburn (25-26, 10-20 SEC West) in the first round in Hoover on Tuesday … Ole Miss (36-22) went 2-2 in the Tucson softball regional.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks (33-20, 16-14 SEC East) are the No. 7 seed for the SEC Baseball Tournament. They will face Alabama Tuesday.
Tennessee: By taking two of three from South Carolina over the weekend, Tennessee (42-14, 20-10 SEC East) clinched the East Division championship for the first time since 1997 as well as the No. 2 seed for the SEC Baseball Tournament. The Vols will face the winner of the South Carolina-Alabama game on Wednesday … The Vols were the No. 9 seed for the NCAA Softball Tournament but they lost two of three to see their season come to an end.
Texas A&M: Texas A&M is not renewing the contract of baseball coach Rob Childress (622-336-3 in 16 seasons), who has taken the Aggies to six regional championships and the College World Series in 2011 and 2017. Childress took the Aggies to 13 consecutive NCAA regionals from 2007-19. A&M went 29-27 this season and didn’t make the SEC Tournament field of 12 … The Aggies went 2-2 in the Norman softball regional, finishing their season 32-23.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores (39-13, 19-10 SEC East) finished a half game behind Tennessee in the SEC East. Vandy, the No. 4 seed in the SEC Baseball Tournament, will face the winner of the Ole Miss-Auburn first round game on Wednesday.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Why is it that we love Phil Mickelson so? Is it because he looks like a guy who stopped off at the local municipal course to get in nine holes after pulling a shift behind the counter at Advance Auto Parts? Or is it because he can’t resist taking the impossible shot from under the tree and over the water instead of punching out and playing for a par? That’s the way most of us play the game. We are inclined to take the one-in-a-million shot rather than play it safe. We know that anyone can make a six but how many can hit a 7-iron over the oak tree and 150 yards to the green where we can two-putt for par? Phil always seems to go for broke when playing it safe would be so much smarter but that’s what endears him to us. That he can make six bogeys in the last round including three in the final six holes while blowing three shots of a 5-shot lead over the final six holes … and still win the PGA! That’s why we love Phil Mickelson. If he’s playing, chances are he’s flirting with disaster and there is something in that fire all the guns at once approach to the game that appeals to us. We don’t mind the feeling that a heart attack is imminent. It’s Phil and if he’s going to go down in flames, we’re going down with him. But if he wins? Oh my. Did you see all those thousands celebrating at Kiawah Sunday when that last putt dropped? Were you celebrating too? I know I was.